Denial-palooza at the Marriott Marquis

Not exactly the climate debate we were looking for.

When I first started climate reporting in 2013, it felt like I was writing about wacky white dude deniers all the time. They were everywhere: in major newspaper op-eds, on cable news during prime time, throwing snowballs on the Senate floor.

Climate deniers are now a bit less conspicuous than they used to be. With the exception of Donald Trump, most shy away from explicitly conspiratorial musings about the reality of human-caused warming. Today, conservative climate rhetoric is focused mostly on delay tactics for climate action, rather than outright rejection of climate science. This new era of denial centers on quietly dismantling environmental protections and expanding fossil fuel production, rather than loudly decrying the Climate Science Illuminati.

I miss the old crew sometimes. I mean, not really—but I do wonder what they’re up to. Especially during a week like next week, which will be jam-packed with big-deal climate events across New York City and around the world.

So, I decided to take a look at what they’re doing, and…

…oh God. They’re holding a climate debate.

If the DNC won’t do it, deniers will.

Yo, I am *cackling.* Ya’ll have been funded extensively by right-wing billionaires and the fossil fuel industry for decades… and this is your banner image? Whose 6-year-old son did you pay to make this? How much money did you let him spend on fonts???

Truthfully, it’s no surprise that The Heartland Institute is putting on a “debate me cowards” event smack in the middle of Climate Week NYC, the U.N. General Assembly’s Climate Summit, and the Global Climate Strike. This type of thing is the group’s bread and mayonnaise. Their event isn’t a presidential candidate debate, though: it’s a debate about whether or not the crisis unfolding before all our eyes exists. These dudes are so crusty they’re literally blind.

None of the climate scientists the group invited to debate are coming, though, so it looks like the event will just be Fox News’s John Stossel moderating a conversation between three other Heartland guys in a glitzy ballroom in the Times Square Marriott Marquis. The press materials also say a public official will “maybe” be there. Can’t wait to see who that is.

Heartland is doing this for attention, I know. I know I am giving them the attention, too. Climate scientist Michael Mann (who Heartland invited to debate) pointed that out in a tweet the other day:

I hear him. I think a lot about whether I should be providing a platform for dangerous idiots to spread their fossil fuel-funded climate denial, because it’s that denial that prevented politicians from taking action to reduce emissions sooner, and got us into the climate situation we’re in right now.

But my question is: Is the Marriott Marquis thinking of that?

Welcome to the Hotel Coalifornia

It’s tricky with hotels. They exist to host people. If they declined to host all the harmful people in the world, they’d probably go out of business.

But there are some harmful people that major hotels chains will not host. For instance, a bunch of hotel groups don’t allow conferences from “hate groups” as defined by the Southern Poverty Law Center. As ThinkProgress reported last year, “HiltonWyndhamAirbnbAccor Hotels, and InterContinental Hotels . . . have refused to allow hate groups to stay at their establishments.”

Hotel chains have also faced pressure over their hosting decisions before. When Hyatt Hotels decided to allow an anti-Muslim extremist group to hold a conference at one of its hotels last year, for example, it was delivered a petition with 100,000 signatures and a letter co-signed by 34 different faith groups asking it to cancel the event. The hotel chain refused, which caused protesters to accuse Hyatt of “placing profits over human decency,” ThinkProgress reported.

The Heartland Institute isn’t a hate group. It is a group that has worked tirelessly and effectively for the last 20 years on behalf of the fossil fuel industry to convince the public that human-caused climate change is not real. Since the early 2000s, Heartland has received tens of millions of dollars from DonorsTrust, the preferred investment vehicle of the Koch Network, to accomplish its core purpose; it’s also received millions from ExxonMobil and other fossil fuel companies. And they got what they paid for. Last year, the group declared victory in the battle of public opinion over climate, and announced it would shift it focus “to advance policies that bolster domestic fossil fuel production.” Its leaders have been advising the Trump administration on how to dismantle climate policies ever since.

If the Heartland Institute’s goals are met, the next generation of humans all over the world will be screwed, to put it mildly. Ecosystems will collapse; species will die off; millions of people will be forced to migrate. The hotel industry probably won’t do so great either.

Still, Marriott International CEO Arne Sorenson has maintained in the past that he believes it’s wrong for a hotel to refuse service to anyone, whatever their point of view. (This was in response to Marriott hosting an anti-Muslim group in 2017):

The fact they are having a meeting with us and using our hotel does not mean we support their point of view. If I could wave a magic wand, I’d love to have it so that those types of groups never exist. …

Do we really want, as a society, for companies like Marriott and the peers in our industry and others to sit and make judgments or points of view on people sitting in our meeting rooms? I shudder to think that we really expect that my role or Marriott’s role is to say your views are not acceptable in our hotels and that another person’s views are.

I get what he’s saying. It’s a free speech issue. And I, for one, agree that anyone—even the people trying to destroy the planet—should be able to hold meetings and conferences.

But I also think it should be really hard for them to find a place where they can do it in peace.

So, what should you do about all this?

This is a question I’ve been getting a lot since I launched HEATED. See this recent e-mail, for example, from U.K.-based reader Stefan Walters:

For a while I’ve struggled to find a way to balance my need to stay informed about climate issues with my need to not become overwhelmed by all the different news sources. Heated has helped me find that balance; although I have to confess I still find all the bad news overwhelming at times, and have to steel myself and take a deep breath before reading the latest updates.

One thing I wanted to say was: at the end of the emails, I often feel quite helpless. I am sure many of your readers must feel the same way. It’s one thing to be informed, but that doesn’t feel like enough. I also feel like I should be taking action somehow. And yet I am not sure where to start. I was wondering if you were planning to include anything on this in upcoming emails, or perhaps to offer a way for readers in the same locations to meet up or form activist groups.

I would appreciate any thoughts you might have on how to take positive action and continue to spread awareness on these issues.

I’m not gonna lie. This is a tough one for me. I’ve always felt uncomfortable telling people what they should or shouldn’t do about the climate crisis. That may surprise you, since I often exercise my opinions. (I just did!) But that doesn’t mean I feel comfortable telling you to adopt my opinion and act based on it.

My journalism professors always taught me that my job was to create an informed citizenry—and that the citizenry’s job was to decide what to do with the information I provided. I’ve always loved that idea, because it gives power to the collective (you all) over the individual (me).

And so, I had a thought: What if I gave the power back to you all to suggest effective action?


E-mail me your ideas!

I was looking for a way to make the community a bigger part of the newsletter, and I feel like asking readers for their suggestions for action might be a good way to do that.

Somehow, this newsletter has cultivated an extremely engaged, knowledgeable readership in a very short amount of time. Through your e-mails and tweets and DMs, it’s clear you all have tons of ideas and suggestions for what we should and shouldn't be doing in response to this crisis. 

So, if you have an idea for what to do about the fact that a big climate denier debate is being held at the Marriott Marquis during Climate Week—or about any of the other bad things that are happening—email them to action@heated.world.

I’ll include the best ones in next week’s newsletter. We’ll call the section Hot Action. Cus why not? Hopefully, we can create an ongoing circle of information and ideas, and everyone here can feel more powerful.

OK, that’s all for now—thanks so much for reading HEATED!

If you liked it, it would mean the world to me if you forwarded it to a friend or three. If you’ve been forwarded this, you can sign up to receive daily Monday-Thursday emails below.

And as always, if you have questions or comments on anything you read in this issue, or want to pitch me a story idea, my inbox is open: emily@heated.world.

See you guys tomorrow.